Beginner’s Mind: The Life-Changing Magic of Being a Novice

By AAwosika07 | Careers

Jun 03
beginner's mind

Beginner’s mind gives you superpowers if you use it the right way.

People are scared to be a novice. They want to know the path beforehand. They want guaranteed success. These people don’t realize how powerful a lack of knowledge can be.

Beginner’s mind can lead to breakthroughs. It’s one of the few states where you can be truly creative. Instead of looking at your lack of experience like an obstacle, think of it as a springboard to a better career, a better understanding of the world, a path to a better you.

The Number One Benefit of Beginner’s Mind

I used to work at a Pizza shop as a delivery boy.

When I got hired, the staff was comprised of stoners with an average age of 25 plus.

Let’s just say this wasn’t the most efficient operation ever. It wasn’t efficient, but it worked. It worked because everyone had their “way of doing things.”

When I say way of doing things, I mean people picked up bad habits and applied them to the job.

There were no company guidelines. You figured it out as you went and we all bumbled around together, getting pizzas in boxes albeit slower than we could’ve.

Upper management realized the store was slipping and brought a regional manager down to run the store.

Within the first few months, she fired the majority of the staff and replaced them with high school kids.

High school kids aren’t as smart or developed as 25-year-olds, but they have no preconceived notions. They listen and do what they’re told. There are no bad habits to break. They’re malleable, teachable, and in the long run, more productive.

Low and behold, the store made a miraculous turnaround.

When it comes to doing something like starting a new business, changing careers, or just doing things differently, you want to be the high school kid, not the 25-year-old stoner. Not only do you want to be the high school kid, but you also want to become them over and over again.

Let me tie in this random story to the concepts now.

The Problem With Experience

Here’s why people get stuck in life after gaining experience in a field for a long period of time.

Imagine you spend your entire career following a certain process. The process itself doesn’t matter. Over time, you’re going to develop a set of assumptions about how the industry works. Hell, living a certain way for a long period of time makes you develop a set of assumptions about how life works.

Throughout this process, you never reinvent yourself, not even once. You become a “specializer,” meaning that you work within a narrow band of a field for a long time.

This all works just fine, if the field remains stagnant if no new discoveries are made, if the field itself doesn’t become obsolete. But often, the opposite happens.

Ask the countless number of mid-level managers at IBM who got laid off.

Hell, ask entire businesses like Kodak and Kmart, who had plenty of experience, but didn’t reinvent themselves, and died.

In academics, some people build their status from a certain type of process, but they can’t adapt when new discoveries occur because they create an identity based off of their knowledge. Never, ever, ever form an identity over a specific mode of knowledge. Develop an identity of a learner.

You need experience, but there’s a fine line between benefitting from it or letting it put you in a fragile position.

The pace of information and technology is moving too fast to think you’ll never have to become a beginner again. You will have to adopt beginner’s mind over and over again if you want to not only survive but thrive in this new era.

The Emergent Era: A Playground for Beginner’s Mind

Beth Comstock, Vice Chair at GE,  wrote an article called Welcome to the Emergent Era. In it, she talks about the new age we live in, one that requires change and adaptation:

It’s a time defined by the rapid waning of our legacy institutions, even though their replacements haven’t scaled up yet. We’re in that messy, sometimes anxious, and ambiguous space between the old and the new.

She goes on to say:

If we choose to embrace and encourage emergent systems in business, politics, and technology, we may end up unlocking more human potential and wealth than ever before in history.

If you adopt a beginner’s mind, instead of an entrenched “experienced” one, you can reap the rewards of an entire era that has a sort of beginner’s mind of its own.

Nobody knows what the future holds. You don’t know what your future holds. Better to develop many skills in many areas so you’re equipped to take advantage of whatever may come.

You have the rise of remote work, the gig economy, cryptocurrencies, AI, 3d printing, the trend towards contracting and freelancing over salary, and a host of other aspects that all favor the flexible person. Statis is death in 2019 and beyond.

The world belongs to the beginners:

 “The internet has massively broadened the possible space of careers. Most people haven’t figured this out yet.”

The people who haven’t figured it out yet are the ones following scripts and laid out plans. The beginners not only know this but live by it.

You should be soaking up new information and trying new skills all the time, not running the corporate race with blinders on.

If you develop and maintain entrenched beliefs, you’ll fail in the long run. Just trust me. The tide is going out and you don’t want to be swimming naked. Begin the process of becoming a beginner.

How to Cultivate Beginner’s Mind As a Lifestyle

I started writing five years ago. I had no assumptions about the way the writing industry worked. This meant I didn’t know about things like finding an agent, getting traditionally published, getting an MFA, anything like that.

I became a “blogger,” a title some people scoff at, but one that has changed my life. What I do didn’t even exist 20 years ago. The internet as we know it is super young, which opens up all sorts of doors for discovery.

Instead of waiting for someone to find me, I published my own books. Instead of waiting for someone to hand me a check, I found ways to make my own money by using new avenues like Medium — channels many “established” writers wouldn’t dare touch.

Now that I’ve developed a real career and make a full-time living with my writing, I’m going to focus on becoming a beginner again.

I’m going to start shooting videos, recording podcasts, making different types of products, dip my toe into e-commerce, read up on investing and experiment with a bunch of skills.

Why? I don’t know…yet. That’s the point. 

I have hobbies I want to try like learning a new language, coding, playing the guitar & piano, rock climbing, archery.

Beginner’s mind for hobbies has a positive effect just like gaining skills for business. Every time you try something new, you get to experience the many benefits of starting over.

You Won’t Be Boring

I live in Rochester, MN, home of the Mayo Clinic, one of the top hospitals in the world. Mayo employs what seems like the entire city.

You can spot a Mayo employee by their corporate badge. Everyone has a uniform — coat, scrubs, or suit. Mayo has strict protocols (which they need to have) and every employee just toes the line.

People who work there have their lives set for them, which is a good thing. But so many of them look so bored. They don’t smile when you walk past them on the street. They look stuffy in their stuffy suits with their stuffy smug expressions.

Sometimes I overhear them talking when I’m out and about. They’re boring. Dorks. They talk about work, the banal, the trivial.

Of course, I’m biased. The way I make a living requires me to stay in a constant state of beginner’s mind because my money isn’t guaranteed. But I do think it’s a more interesting way to live. Farbeit for me to judge a brain surgeon, but even he or she seems to be stuck, entrenched. That’s my .02.

On the contrary, the artists and entrepreneurs I know just seem alive. In these fields, the game changes so much that you have to change, else you’re lost. It’s scary, but exciting at the same time.

This isn’t to say you have to become an artist or entrepreneur, but do something to get yourself in that beginner’s mind so you’re, you know, interesting.

Get some hobbies. Don’t be one of those 45-year-old dorks who wear suits and goes to conferences to talk about “synergy.”

You’ll Get What All Humans Truly Need

I’m successful. Hundreds of thousands of people read my work every month. I could stop writing for a month and my numbers wouldn’t crater because I’ve automated some of the promotion.

If I was being honest, being successful in an of itself isn’t all that much fun. Oh, poor me, right?

What I mean to say is, there’s beauty in the struggle. Of course, you don’t always know that when you’re struggling. In the beginning, I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, stressed out all the time about “whether I’d succeed,” but the ride was fun and I get to look back at it fondly.

I had a blast putting together my first book. Learning how to put together websites, software, campaigns, all of that stuff put me through my paces and made me better because I struggled.

There’s a certain type of energy you can’t feel unless you’re back at the drawing board.

Your life and career will get stale if you don’t cultivate beginner’s mind and reinvent yourself over and over again. You should have no 5-year timespans that resemble others. If you do, you’re letting your life atrophy. No change means no struggle, which means no growth.

If you don’t put your body through struggle via exercise, you decay, get weak and speed up your own death.

If you don’t put your mind and spirit through struggle, it decays, gets weak, and you die while you’re still alive.

You see people like this all the time. They “figured life out” but when you look into their eyes you see…nothing.

Why do you think kids have so much energy and brightness? Because they’re ignorant!

Imagine not knowing what anything is. What an exciting way to live. I try to adopt the spirit of a child with each new task, hobby, and goal so that I never die.

You’ll Get to Experience This

I often talk about increasing your odds of success.

If you want to be lucky, you have to put yourself in a position to be lucky by trying new things, adding new skills, constantly learning, and training yourself to spot opportunities.

When you do that, you’ll get to experience serendipity.

You’ll get to experience that moment where disparate phenomena in your life combine, collide and click. 

Do you know who rarely experiences the joy of serendipity? The “stuck in their ways” crowd. Sure, they have certainty, but they have certainty. They more or less know how life is going to go next week, next year, next decade. No thanks.

Will I be writing 5 years from now? Yes, but I’ll also be owning new businesses. I’ll have a host of new hobbies. I’ll have traveled the world. I’m collecting new experiences because I’m going to die sooner than later and I want to squeeze all the juice out of life because, why not?

Adopt beginner’s mind.

And begin.

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